By Charlie Leonard
August 31, 2020 (updated)
Created by local artists, a new music festival titled “We Are Hip Hop” is coming to the Booth Playhouse. The festival will run from January 21-24, 2021 and will feature virtual and in-person performances from hip hop artists and dancers, DJs, spoken word poets, graffiti artists, and more. “We Are Hip Hop” will launch a series of activities throughout the year under the same name.
A key member of the festival’s development is Emmy-winning poet and author Boris “Bluz” Rogers. Rogers has written and performed his poetry in conjunction with several notable Charlotte organizations, and he is currently writing two books: one on hip hop haiku and another full of poems about musicians. Additionally, he has a new single titled “Stronger”, available to stream on all platforms. When it comes to art and creative expression, Rogers knows a lot.
For Rogers, “We Are Hip Hop” is much more than musical entertainment; it’s a celebration of hip hop culture, something personal to many.
“It doesn’t matter what you look like, it doesn’t matter where you come from. At some point, hip hop moved you, and we want you to be a part of that movement,” Rogers said. “When we say ‘we are hip hop’, we are also talking about you.”
This year’s event builds on the momentum of the “Breakin’ Convention,” an international hip-hop festival that ran in Charlotte from 2015 to 2017. The show featured live DJs, music dance, spoken word performances and graffiti exhibitions, among other events. It was a party atmosphere, fusing foreign and local artists to celebrate hip hop culture overseas and at home in Charlotte. Today, three years later, people still mention the festival in Rogers.
“I’ll be at Walmart and have someone say, ‘Hey, I remember you from the Breakin’ Convention. When’s the next one?'” he said.
The event’s contract expired in 2018 but, with local enthusiasm for hip hop culture remaining high, Rogers knew he had to keep the energy alive. Charlotte’s hip hop scene has grown exponentially in a short time, with local artists like DaBaby and Lute gaining national recognition. Rogers also points to artists like Elevator Jay, Big Pooh and The Mighty DJ DR, among others, as key players in this development. The result is a city he sees as a new and unique hub for serious talent, and that’s something to celebrate.
Rogers approached Tom Gabbard, president of Blumenthal Performing Arts – the presenter of Breakin Convention – to discuss creating a Charlotte-centric hip hop festival. Gabbard agreed with Rogers’ sentiment on the importance to Charlotte and offered to lead the creation of this year’s event.
“We want to build on the success we had with Breakin’ Convention to create a new program that’s truly ours to celebrate hip hop artists and Charlotte,” Gabbard said.
Beyond Rogers’ consultation, three additional collaborators were recruited to present “We Are Hip Hop”: visual artist Bree Stallings, dancer and CrayzeeBeat Dance founder AJ Glasco, and Heal Charlotte executive director Greg Jackson. Together, they formulated an event very similar to the Breakin’ Convention but with some pandemic-specific differences.
The main show will run from Thursday to Saturday with numbers focused on the dance community. It will be complemented by music, art, poetry performances, workshops via Zoom and DJ battles during intermission. A major theme that will be explored is the evolution of Charlotte’s hip hop culture from the early 90s to the present day, with some expected references to the recent Black Lives Matter movement.
One feature Rogers considers to be the first of its kind in Charlotte is the “After Church Party,” a primarily faith-based party that takes place after church services end that Sunday. Various hip hop artists and DJs, mostly in the Gospel and Christian genre, are expected to perform on this day with the end goal of highlighting the growth of spiritual influences in Charlotte’s culture. Even then, Rogers says it’s not designed to just talk about God.
“Some of them are really fun, happy. Some of them are really uplifting. Some of them are ‘Hey, I’ve been through this depression. I’ve been through this struggle before and this is how I’m got out,” he said. “But their main goal is, for example, to uplift and bring people and culture to a higher level.”
The weekend’s events will be streamed and available to watch online. The festival plan includes in-person seating, with approximately 25-50 people allowed inside the Booth Playhouse. It’s a decision that will largely depend on the direction of the number of COVID-19 cases in North Carolina and any expected changes to the guidelines, an update of which is expected on September 11.
Tickets for “We Are Hip Hop” from January 21 to 24, 2021 will be available on BlumenthalArts.org.